Is forgiveness necessary for healing? Especially if you come from a faith background, you’ve probably learned a lot about the power of forgiveness.
You may have felt like you had no other choice than to forgive an abuser. We’re bombarded with images and videos of people forgiving criminals of heinous crimes.
I wonder, however, when forgiveness becomes a form of people pleasing.
According to medical experts like Gabor Maté, unexpressed anger manifests as disease. The suppression of rage that often accompanies forgiveness can make us sick.
With this in mind, is it possible forgiveness may do more harm than good?
Can you heal without forgiving?
Sure, we’re told refusing to forgive is like taking poison and hoping the other person will die. But this perspective supports the societal view that anger and resentment should go unacknowledged.
Forgiveness given before processing anger forces the victim to suppress their own needs. And it’s another form of self abandonment designed to make others feel better.
Forcing yourself to forgive means denying your true feelings. Isn’t that what we’re trying to stop doing?
Is it possible you think you can’t move on without forgiving because society has conditioned you to believe that?
What if you focused instead on the wonderful information you receive from your anger. Instead of once again feeling responsible for repairing what someone else broke.
Why forgiveness is not necessary
The idea that forgiveness is necessary for healing has become commonplace. It’s like saying the sky is blue.
But it seems yet another way society lets abusers off the hook and puts it on the victim. Once again, the victim does all the hard work while the abuser receives protection.
On top of the abuse or neglect, survivors feel guilty for a lack of forgiveness. And expected to forgive even if no one’s asked for it or apologized.
Now, all this would be fine if forgiveness always promoted healing and helped a survivor move on. But, often it creates harmful cognitive dissonance.
It keeps the survivor in a pattern of denying her true feelings and telling herself something she doesn’t believe. This has been our self-defeating pattern all along and needs to change.
I’ve come to believe forgiving yourself is more important than forgiving others. Often, we blame ourselves for what happened, as though we should have done something to stop it.
Authentic forgiveness comes when you stop pressuring yourself into it and focus on your own healing instead.
After you process your rightful anger and resentment, you may find yourself thinking less and less about your abuser.
As your life improves and the person has lost control over you, your resentment decreases. But anger might remain and that’s okay.
Perhaps anger has its place as a guardian of your heart. It reminds you of what you endured and why you should never go back.
Forced forgiveness comes from the same mindset that views anger in a negative light. Let’s normalize seeing anger as your friend.
I loved reading this article. It gave a lot of insight into how I can stop pressuring myself to forgive my abuser. However, I am confused about one thing… how does one even process their anger?
I’ve been seeking therapy for more than a year now. I talk about my abuser and trauma but it still has not made me any less resentful of her.
The pressure to process anger then precedes the pressure to forgive. It becomes a neverending cycle… what gives?
Processing anger looks different for everyone. For me, it means feeling it without shame or guilt and listening to what it is telling me. No pressure to do anything with it or about it.
I believe forgiveness is necessary to healing. Since I forgave my son and daughters in law for the hurt they caused, I have felt so much better. I am sleeping better and enjoying my life. Living in anger, fear and resentment changes nothing. But forgiving, frees yourself to enjoy all that life has to give. My higher power will take care of the rest.
i think real forgiveness requires courage and lot of acceptance, that what’s done is done and we have to decide what’s more important now. but it is not an easy thing and the depth of it depends on person to person, like for me,i may forget and forgive about things said in anger even if it is abuse(not repititive )but it’s really very hard for me to forget and forgive someone who has my trust and then break it like it was nothing or just lie to me on my face. it’s said “forgive but never forget”. it is important to forgive if someone deserves it and for your own peace too, but for really healing ourselves we should also learn to forget it after a time, we cannot hold it always in my mind. we should let it go . and cause if we never let it go then we never really gave our forgiveness. cause that thing is still in our mind, we will still act keeping that in mind. and i find it really hard. specially when i have become an over-thinker, my mind keeps thinking and analysing everything and if we talk about Anger. i don’t have control over it sometimes now, i just loose it cause m tired of all the games, why cannot people reciprocate the efforts which they said they would, why cannot people be true, why cannot people love genuinely, which i used to be so calm and i used to control my emotions and feelings so that well but now it’s nothing like that. one toxic relationsip and boom ur mental health n peace is gone by serious Brain Damage someone has done to you. so, always be with people who have good heart, who would go to any lengths for you like u do. so, never ever change yourself, love yourself first and then others. and do whatever that makes you happy.
I was abused by my grandfather at 9/10 years old. I have never (69 years old now) forgiven him nor really spoken of it (I told one person, but no details)
It rears its ugly head a few times a year or more often if anyone in the family talks about him … I immediately shut down and just let the discussion or comment continue without my input. He was an admired grandpa and i loved him dearly, until…
I cannot forgive … I know not why … and I just plain don’t want to. Yet I don’t like sitting here and wallowing in my utter disgust and resounding sadness 💔❤️🩹
Gracie, I don’t believe you have to forgive. You were an innocent child full of love and trust for him. HE betrayed both your love and your trust!
The person I wonder if you have to forgive is yourself – your inner child who could not protect nor save either of you. Please, please forgive yourself. All you need to do in respect to him is accept what happened and that – not only could you not save yourself but all of the adults whose responsibility it was to protect you – also failed you. Forgive yourself and accept that there is nothing you can do to change your past – your story. Don’t let him take anything else from you! Forgive yourself! Accept! Then move on and live your life!!!!!
Real and healing forgiveness should have a counterpart from the abuser: that he /she at least truly aknowledges the destruction he/she has caused.
And this is not going to happen, and we have to live with this.
Is this not enough?
Processing anger to me means acknowledging it, knowing the reason of my anger and making a choice, to let anger controls me or I conquer anger. Anger is a result of pain inflicted. What exactly has been hurt in me? Will I let the abuser further abuse me (in my mind)? True forgiveness starts from one self as what Laura said. Then and only then you can forgive others. I have to forgive myself for being a victim. Acknowledge the responsibility including all the emotions that goes with it. Then start to deal with my outward action one at the time.
It is not either/or. Forgiveness is possible when the soul grows large enough to have it happen, and may lead to twisted responses to anger.. Trying to forgive or willing oneself to forgive is not usually effective.
When my father ill, I remembered how impatient he had been with me as a child and how angry he would get when impatient. As he was dying, he was even more impatient with everything and everyone. As I watched him lose his temper trying to fix something and give up on it, I suddenly understood those things were part of him and I loved him in spite of it. I had withheld love from him most of my life because of his anger and impatience, and suddenly love flooded me. It was the first time I knew what unconditional love was and that I was capable of it.
This is not the same thing as being sexually abused, or having a loved one murdered and forgiving, but it’s in the category of forgiving and healing.
When I was 9 years old my dad raped me. I’m 45 now. Being that I was a child and all I wanted to do was play with lego and starwars figures I really didn’t know what he was doing or why. It was very shocking and painful and degrading. I thought I’d done something wrong and was being punished. I’ve spent a large portion of my life angry. I’ve also been prone to projecting that anger onto others in an out-of scale way for minor infractions. So why am I chirping in here on this thread? Maybe my thoughts can help someone.
A few years ago I found Jesus. Then I found Christian people. Sometimes Christian people get it wrong. I’ve read the bible fully once and some parts more than once. So are people of faith required to forgive? I do not believe we are. Not if the offender is not in a position of repentance. Biblically, the non-repenting sinner is destined for hell. Jesus teaches that in the book of Mathew. So should I forgive my dad for destroying my childhood? It seems that from a Christian viewpoint it would hinge on whether or not he repented. So I contacted him. I truly believed he would be sorry for what he had done and that he would apologize sincerely. But he did not. He wasn’t at all sorry.
It was an unpleasant process to get to the other side of that but it was good for me. Why? Because now I accept my anger as being the correct response to a child rapist. Anger is the correct emotion. Children should not be raped. Society should protect children from abusers.
Acceptance. I now accept that it happened, that he did that to me. I also accept that I was unable to control the situation, I was a defenseless child. I accept that what he did was very very wrong and not in any way my fault. Acceptance has been very helpful to me psychologically. Critical to my recovery.
So I have since understood that the 9 year old boy in me has hijacked my life in an effort to protect me (himself) from a similar situation. But that it has not always been helpful to me as an adult. Therefore I felt it necessary to talk to my inner child. I told him (me then) that it wasn’t his (my) fault. That he had done nothing to deserve such an assault. And that the bad man should have gone to jail. It was a useful exercise. I cried. I broke through into a new place.
There is some talk in this thread about forgiving ourself for being a victim. I don’t agree with that or I don’t understand what is meant by that by the writer(s). The requirement for forgiveness implies guilt. Raped children don’t need to forgive themselves and they don’t need to forgive the rapist either.
My summary. I hope this helps someone in the way it has helped me. God does not forgive non-repenting sinners. The authentic Christian way is that sinners are able to be forgiven by God only through repentance and the blood of Jesus. Non repenting sinners are subject to Gods righteousness and sent to hell. Jesus specifically talks of those who harm children and the result for them will not be good fun. Better that a millstone be around their neck… So I take solace in knowing that my God will indeed exact his devine justice on the person who raped me and that there is NO moral weight upon me to forgive the unrepenting sinner.
For those of you who would teach abuse victims to forgive sinners who are not sorry, you are causing further victimization of the victims. Please cease doing that. It’s not helpful. They hold no guilt. The abuser is the person who should bear the guilt, not the abused.
Hatred. Intense anger can produce hatred. Holding onto hatred did not feel good for me. Quite the opposite. It’s very destructive and most likley the hatred only hurts the victim more because it spills out into their life and causes problems. Let go if you can.
Acceptance. Now that I have been able to accept what happened to me as something terrible and completely outside of my control, I have set the anger upon the abuser, not other people I encounter in life. I am now able to let go of the hatred and move on but I did not forgive and I’m ok with that.
Vengeance. I have not gone after him for revenge. Many times I thought about violence towards him but the bible instructs us that vengeance belongs to the Lord. If I had followed my instincts I’d probably be typing this from prison. I feel compassion for anyone in prison who is there because of behavior resulting from childhood abuse but at the end of the day we all must be held accountable for our actions. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
Whoever read this far. Thank you. I hope there was something helpful there for you.
Laura, I’d like counseling. I’ve been receiving your emails for a while now. Your ministry is specifically for women, right? I think that is wonderful. There are many girls and women who need your help. Can you recommend a therapist for me in the GTA?